The biggest impediment to drawing is our assumptions. We often miss the actual shape of a thing because we get stuck or intimidated about what we think it should look like.
Why do we have kids draw something upside-down? To help students see only what is actually there, not what they think is there. Here is my lesson for week 3, upside-down drawing, for Classical Conversations. I did this in cycle 1 for a class of journeymen students (ages 8-10).
Because the point of this exercise is to allow the trick to help us see the truth of the lines and basic shapes, I will take you through this tutorial the way my students do it: with the mystery. If I showed you the drawing now, I’d rob you of the opportunity to see if it works for you AND keep you from the experience students have in this.
Prep #1 at home: Make copies of what you want students to draw.
Problem: returning students know to expect this “trick,” so it’s hard to let the trick work its magic. Some get stubborn and don’t even want to try it upside down. Others will try, but keep craning their heads and bodies to keep seeing the drawing right-side-up, and it all results in really funny drawings that show that the lesson didn’t help the students in the least! (Because they weren’t game for giving it a shot.)
So to try to preserve the intent of the exercise by trying to preserve a mystery, I tape construction paper over part of the drawing. For this exercise, I divided the drawing into two parts by drawing a faint line across the page, in the middle. What my students get is just one section at a time visible, the rest covered by construction paper.
Prep #2: To make this go faster in class, I suggest that you also draw, at home, the lines on the blank sheet of paper the students will draw on. Easiest way: lay the original drawing with its dividing pencil lines on a surface. Lay a blank sheet right next to it. On the blank paper, make a dot right next to the end of the lines on the original drawing. To get the dot on the other side of the blank paper, move the original drawing to the other side, line up again, right next to each other, and draw the dots on the blank paper right next to where the dividing lines begin on the original. Last, take a ruler and connect that pair of dots across the paper. You’ll end up with the blank paper divided exactly as the original drawing. (Students CAN do this with instruction, but I wanted to use the time for drawing.)
Step #1. Pass out the drawing to students, with part covered with construction paper (which is in fact the top of the drawing.) Of course they will try to guess what it is. Some may guess correctly, but I say nothing to affirm or deny.
Step # 2. I ask students to trace the basic shapes (and the simple geometric shapes they compose) they see directly onto the paper, as I instructed in the OiLs lesson 1. I used a colored marker to make this more visible to students at a distance. This is fast and loose–not painstaking and exact. I found a lot of ovals in this and some great, a lot of rectangles lines, and some triangles–even heart shapes! Others may see the shapes differently, and that’s ok.
Do you ever have students who bed, “Oh, please, let me just trace it!” Students sees tracing as far easier. And interestingly, tracing is not without benefit, depending on how it’s done. This step is about tracing–the act of tracing over the basic geometric shapes they find, helps with a few skills: 1) students have to actually pay attention to what they see because they make a decision about what shape they see folded into the complex conglomeration of lines 2) the physical act of tracing multiple times gets their hands to FEEL the size and shape.
#3: On a blank sheet of paper you have handed out, ask the student to transfer their basic shapes to it. Remind them they can measure the sizes of these basic shapes–and measure the size of the blank spaces separating them, the skill we learned last week: King Tut: Mirror Image Drawing Lesson Week 2, Cycle 1.
As they draw, I model this on the board, drawing with a marker on the white board to transfer the basic shapes I traced onto my original. I make a point to show that I draw multiple ovals in one space, until I get the shape right. I don’t bother to erase the lights lines of the “drafts”–that’s for later. This is meant to be done fast and loose, drawing lightly until we’re sure. (I’m sorry I no longer have my drawing of this step…)
#4. Now, I’d remove the construction paper to reveal the bottom of the upside-down drawing.
The fun part is hearing if students are surprised that what they were drawing were feet on a stool. (I admit, drawing feet is a thing of mine–people often say they’re so hard to draw, and I like students to meet feet in unusual perspectives, upside-down, because for many, that’s the only way they’ll ever notice the unusual shapes that actually are formed by toes, arches and ankles. These resemble lumpy potatoes!
Step #5. As you may guess, the next step is to trace basic geometric shapes we see on the original’s other half.
Now here I stop and confess: I don’t have any more examples to show of my next steps. I can share them but not demonstrate them (though they are repeats of the above process)–because I never did them. I planned this for my journeymen class, but this one lesson proved to be too demanding–at least for the time we had. This is all the farther most of the class got.
And I’d tried to break it down–really I did! See below: the original drawing I found online, then my simplified outline I had kids draw:
I wanted to break down the image to the most essential parts. I then planned to do it in layers: once a student did the above, I’d give them another sheet with the details added on–because details should be last. (And if they cannot even see the details at the beginning, they cannot be distracted by them.) Below you can see the details.
I think one student completed most of the upside-down drawing of the simplified version above and then asked for the details to take home.
This detail-stage is where we can add sandals, swirly designs, facial features, angel wings, etc. These details make the image of the Statue of Zeus, one of the Seven wonders of the World, come alive.
I wanted to simplify the drawing for students when they approached it, and yet, it was still a bit much for my class of journeymen. I think my previous year’s master’s class would have done well with it–both because they were older but also highly motivated to take on drawing challenges.
So, lesson learned. This was my least successful lesson in 3 years of tutoring. I wasn’t going to share, but then I did, for two reasons: 1) it shows not all lessons succeed the way we think they will, and 2) I think this may be a perfectly good lesson for masters, if not for journeymen.